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76                                                                                                           B. POLEVOI
dugout and doing something at the table, he resumed the
subject he had been talking about:
"DoiA condemn the woman, AlextiT>Xjry to understand
her, my friend. She was like an old birch-tree in a big
forest, protected from the wind on every side. But no\v
she is like an old, rotten stump in a clearing, and her
only consolation is that chicken. Why don't you say some-
thing? Are you asleep? Well, sleep, sleep."
Alexei was asleep and not asleep. He lay under the
sheepskin coat that was pervaded with the sourish smell
of bread, the smell of an old peasant habitation; he heard
the soothing chirp of the cricket and ^ was reluctant to
move even a finger. He felt as though his body was bone-
less and had been filled with warm cotton wool, through
which the blood pulsated and throbbed. His fractured,
swollen feet burned, ached with an intense, gnawing-
pain, but he had not the strength to turn over or even
In that state of semi-oblivion Alexei was conscious
of the life around him in snatches, as if it were not real
life, but the flickering of a series of fantastic, disconnected
scenes on a cinema screen.
Spring was here. The fugitive village was passing
through its most difficult days. The inhabitants were
eating the last of the provisions they had managed to
conceal in the ground, and which they had surreptitious-
ly unearthed at night in the gutted village and had
brought into the forest. The ground was thawing. The
hastily built dugouts "wept tears"; water dripped from
the walls and ceiling. The men who were waging partisan
warfare in the Olenin Forest, to the west of the under-
ground village, used to visit the place singly and at night;
but now they were cut off by the front line. Nothing was
heard of them. This worsened the already hard lot of
the women. And now spring was here, the snow was melt-
ing and they had to think of planting the crops and
digging the vegetable gardens.
The women went about care-worn and irritable. Every
now and again noisy quarrels and mutual recrimination
would break out in Grandad's dugout, during which the
women would enumerate all their old and new grievances,
real and imaginary. Sometimes sheer pandemonium